10 Question Types on The PMP Exam & Exactly How to Study For Them
The exam tests you at a professional level to asses your comprehension and application of very specific complex situations.
The following is a collection of information and best practices you may want to consider during the course of your study. It is highly recommended you practice with as many exam questions and exam simulations as possible, where you can become familair with the methods below, until you are at the professional level you need to be at to pass.
These are the 10 different types of questions you’ll be faced with, how to study for them and how to answer them:
1. FORMULA based questions will have you solve for an unknown by using mathematical formulas. There are numerous PMP exam formulas that you’ll need to know front to back in order to pass the PMP Exam. Understanding them thoroughly down to the importance of each element will give you the decision making criteria to include or exclude the values in the PMP exam question. They test your understanding of the formulas and your knowledge of their specific applications. You'll need to know which formula to use when and how to calculate the result. These questions may come from concepts such as critical path method, PERT, earned value management, etc.
You have a project with a worth of 100,000 USD. To date you have spent 30,000 USD and 25% of the work is completed. What is the Cost Performance Index (CPI)?
Cost Performance Index = (Earned Value)/(Actual Cost)
CPI = EV/AC
According to the question:
Earned Value = 25% of 100,000
Actual Cost = 30,000
CPI = 25,000/30,000
Hence, the answer is “B”.
Here’s how to study for these type with 2 key factors:
i) Make sure you know the purpose of every component of the formula. Take the time to know each variable and picture how it applies in the real world. Use a relationship chart to form a visual context in your mind where and how schedule, cost, values, budget and baselines relate. Draw this chart in the same spot on a piece of paper every time you study.
ii) Cement the formulas in your mind. Every time you begin and end a study session, grab two sheets of paper and develop a “brain dump”. In other words, start with 2 or 3 formulas and write them down on the page in a way that makes sense to you. At the end of your study session, grab another page and do the same thing, but add one formula. The next time you study grab 2 other sheets of paper and write down the chart mentioned above and the same formulas, adding new ones, until you can write down every one on the page.
When the exam day comes you’ll know each component and be so familiar with the formulas, you’ll be able to write them down on two sheets of paper immediately when the exam starts. To help you out we’ve put together a formula sheet you can download on our resources page here:
2. SITUATIONAL based questions test your ability to apply theoretical understanding to real life project management situations. These questions tend to be very long paragraphs with several insignificant details. The concept behind these, is that in reality you will be faced with both relevant and irrelevant information. Your objective is to identify what’s relevant, ignore what doesn’t matter, then act on the correct concept that applies to the real issue of the problem. Distraction and confusion are major factors here, but with practice comes awareness to highlight what the real issues are. Be sure to read carefully and accurately identify the actual question being asked of you, so that you can eliminate the useless information. Often, situational questions will offer two choices which are both reasonably correct, so it’s extremely important that you identify if the question is asking you the BEST choice in general, the EXCEPTION to some rule, or the ONLY answer applicable to that situation - tricky.
These questions are very difficult because all or some of the options will seem acceptable. However, you have to choose the best option, and the key words here are, “for that situation".
You are managing a project that will implement a new Insurance software package. Two project team members have difficulty working together. They come to you, for help resolving the issues. You immediately set up a meeting that includes the functional manager. After the meeting you and the functional manager discuss the issues and agree on a solution. What type of organizational structure you are working in?
B) Balanced Matrix
D) Strong Matrix
B is the correct answer. Balanced matrix: Power is shared between both Functional and Project Manager. In this case you include the functional manager in the meeting therefore it is Balanced Matrix organization.
In this case irrelevant information is the project type for the insurance software package and that team members are having difficulty working together. To solve, you only care about the functional manager’s role and what the question is asking.
Here’s how to study for these:
Read the question section first and skip the sentences before it. Then check the options available and see if any stand out to you at that point. Then, if necessary, read the preliminary information if you need it to make a decision. The reason for breaking up the question like this is so you can better determine what is relevant and what is not, with regard to the question being asked - and ONLY with regard to the question is being asked. Reading preliminary information may provide details you need to solve the question - but in many cases it does not, and this information is included to intentionally mislead you.
3. DEFINITION Based questions. These are the simplest questions that you will see on the PMP certification exam; for example, the definition of risk, secondary risk, residual risk, etc.
A risk that is a result of response to any risk is known as:
A) Primary risk
B) Secondary risk
C) Residual risk
D) Unknown risk
Here the answer is “B”, because secondary risk is the risk which is a result of response to any primary risk.
Here’s how to study for these:
You’ll simply have to know them. If you know the concepts, you’ll know what the definitions mean and these questions will be a breeze. Visualization and application of each term will give you context, and you’ll remember them more. Go back to the days of junior high, high school, or college and recall your best method to memorization. Studies show that writing helps imprint things on your mind, so start a personal glossary where you write and memorize 10 terms every study session.
4. KNOWLEDGE based questions require you to identify the meaning of the situation based on your understanding of the facts provided. You will be given some data that you have to analyze to find the correct answer. You'll be tested on your proficiency to understand a concept well enough to identify the correct variable or course of action.
These questions also occasionally have wording such as, “What is the exception?” or “Group brainstorming encourages all of the following except:…”. They will often ask you to identify an example chart, graph, special circumstance, variable, or application of a concept.
All of the following statements are true regarding issue logs except___________.
A) Issue logs are tools or techniques of the Manage Stakeholder Engagement process
B) An issue log is known as action item log
C) Issue logs are tools or techniques of the Develop Project Team process
D) Issue logs are tools or techniques of the Manage Project Team process
D is the Correct Answer. Issue logs are tools or techniques of the Develop Project Team process, not Manage Project Team process.
Here’s how to study for these with 3 key factors:
i) Similar to definition questions, you simply have to know them. If you know the concepts, you’ll know what the circumstances tell you about the question. Visualization and application of each term will give you context, and you’ll remember them more.
ii) On practice questions, look out for choices that represent special cases. These choices tend to be correct and are characterized by words such as "often", "sometimes", "may", "generally", and “perhaps”.
iii) Beware of answer choices that represent generalizations, which may be characterized by words such as "always", "never", "must", or "completely". These are often the incorrect choices.
5. INTERPRETATIONAL questions require you to identify the meaning of the situation based on your understanding of the facts provided, and will require you to apply the correct awareness for the correct answer. In other words, these questions require you to go a step further than knowledge based questions. Here you will be given some data that you have to analyze to find the correct answer, by your awareness of the knowledge and your ability to apply it to discover the answer. These test your ability to decode a situation or condition from information you are given about a status or problem.
Wording for this kind of questions could be: “If your project has an SPI and a CPI both greater than 1, how well is your project performing?” To solve this, you will need to know the concepts of SPI and CPI as well as how they relate to the project’s performance to decode the answer. (With a knowledge based question, the answer could simply be the difference in meaning between the two).
You have a project with a worth of 100,000 USD. To date you have spent 30,000 USD and 25% of the work is completed.
For the above project, which statement is correct?
A) The project is under budget
B) The project is over budget
C) The project is ahead of schedule
D) The project is behind schedule
Since the CPI is less than one for this project, the project is over budget. Knowing each factor and understanding how to apply the concepts is the key to decoding these questions.
Here’s how to study for these with 4 key factors:
i) Similar to knowledge based questions, you simply have to know the concepts well. If you know the concepts, you’ll know what the circumstances tell you about the question and then have the ability to take it a step further to decode the answer.
ii) Use a visual aid to jog your memory. Many of the questions will have you solve similarly to the example above. Knowing you’ll have the concepts down, it becomes a matter of sorting it all out under pressure, and a few letters is often all it takes for you to jump start you memory. Along with the formula’s on your brain dump sheet, write down important acronyms in the same spot on a page starting with a few at a time. Repeat this until you can write everyone of them down and remember what they mean. Here are the acronyms:
EVA – Earned Value Analysis
EVM – Earned Value Management
CAP – Control Account Plans – Management control point where PV, EV, and AC are monitored.
PV – Planned Value – (BCWS) – Physical work scheduled to be performed
EV – Earned Value – (BCWP) – Physical work actually accomplished
AC – Actual Costs – (ACWP) – Costs incurred to achieve EV.
SV – Schedule Variance
CV – Cost Variance
CPI – Cumulative Performance Index
SPI – Schedule Performance Index
EAC – Estimate At Completion
BAC – Balance At Completion
VAC - Variance At Completion
ETC – Estimate To Completion
iii) Look out for choices that represent special cases. These choices tend to be correct and are characterized by words such as "often", "sometimes", "may", "generally", and “perhaps”.
iv) Beware of answer choices that represent generalizations, which may be characterized by words such as "always", "never", "must", or "completely". These are often the incorrect choices.
6. SPECIFIC TECHNIQUE questions like other question types, you will be provided with information about a specific situation, in different forms like a network diagram or a chart of data for example. They will provide a snap shot of a situation, and ask you to provide an element that’s inherent in that situation. You'll need to provide the response that relates directly to an element with regard to the situation described, on what specific technique would be used to determine an unknown variable.
What is the length of the critical path?
(This question shows a chart with various pieces of data required to solve the question, but the image uplaoder wasn't responding that the time of this post. However, you can see it here.
The answer is “A”. In this case solving for the critical path variable is the technique required.
Here’s how to study for these:
Go through the all the "techniques” so you know them backwards and forwards. Once you understand a technique, re-create it with 5 variations on that same technique. In other words, make 5 different questions with 5 different answers on that specific technique. It's proven that if you know something well enough to teach it, you’ll remember it.
7. PMBOK GUIDE KNOWLEDGE questions. These questions directly assess your proficiency with understanding and application of the Processes and Knowledge Areas. What they apply to, when they occur, what they consist of, how they relate, etc. These questions will test how familiar your are with specific areas of the guide, and you may see wording such as this for example, “Which of these processes are not part of the Initiating Process Group?”
Question: Which of the following are inputs to the “Source Selection” process?
A) Organizational policies
B) Procurement documents
C) Evaluation criteria
D) Both A and B
The answer is “D”, both A and B.
Here’s how to study for these with 2 key factors:
i) The strongest, most effective way to get this down fast is to draw it in your own chart - by hand. Start with 1 sheet of paper and draw 5 evenly spaced vertical lines from top of page to bottom of page. Then draw 10 evenly spaced horizontal lines from left edge to right edge - you should have 6 columns and 11 rows. Place each of the 5 process in the first row across columns 2-6. Place all 10 knowledge areas in the first column in rows 2-11. Practice this until you can do it completely and in about 45 seconds.
ii) Practice this chart every time you begin a study session and end a study session. Take it a step further and begin to populate this chart with every one of the 47 processes. Practice this until you can draw this chart completely in 3-4 minutes.
Like the formulas and acronyms, you’ll be able to write this chart down immediately when you walk into the exam and half the work will be done for you. Your focus will be so much better because it will be a matter of referring to your written information, not recall.
8. ITTO (Inputs, Tools, Techniques & Outputs) questions: The PMBOK® Guide describes 47 processes, where each process has Inputs, Tools, Techniques & Outputs. Aside from knowing the processes, you will be required to take that a step further and know where each “ITTO” belongs and where they apply. In this type of question, you may be asked to select the correct Input, Tool & Technique, or Output for a given process.
What is an output of develop project charter process?
A) Risk register
B) Stakeholder register
C) Project charter
D) Issue log
The answer is “C". In this case the output is the project charter.
Here’s how to study for these with 3 key factors:
i) Using the chart mentioned above will help you here as well. Referencing a fully populated chart that you have been able to memorize and draw, will be 50% of the battle. Being able to visually see each process will jog your memory for further information you’ll need beyond the process itself.
ii) Take it one final step further and do a similar exercise for every single process. Manually write out the inputs, tools & techniques and outputs for each. Make the diagram/table simple and easy to replicate. Whatever method that is easiest for you to draw and remember is the key. Tables work well if you like neatness where the components line up verticall but diagrams provide more distinguished visual aids which you may remember better.
iii) Practice these diagrams/tables every time you begin a study session, even if you do half at the start and the other half at the end of a study session. Depending on how fast you can get this down, you may or may not choose to actually write these down immediately before starting the exam. Chances are you won’t need to and the chart of processes will be enough to jog your memory; But make sure to do them in your study regardless.
9. Professional and Social Responsibility questions. PMI expects you to follow a certain code of ethics and professional conduct in your behaviour, as part of becoming certified.
As per PMI’s wording, “As practitioners of project management, we are committed to doing what is right and honourable. We set high standards for ourselves and we aspire to meet these standards in all aspects of our lives — at work, at home, and in service to our profession.”
These questions will focus solely on your awareness to apply the code of ethics and mentality that PMI expects you to have.
During a bidding conference you notice that a bidder is your friend. What will your next step be?
A) You will help your friend
B) You will not tell anyone
C) You will disclose it
D) You will not attend the conference
There can be a conflict of interest, and in this case your first step is to disclose your friendship to management. Hence the correct answer is “C”. Your awareness and understanding of PMI’s perspective is paramount to getting these correct.
Here’s how to study for these with 2 key factors:
i) Answer the questions from a PMI perspective and ONLY PMI’s perspective - This can't be urged enough. Dispel your own perspective or experience, as the exam is based on PMI’s methodologies, not the real world. It will be challenging at times, when you come across a question where you disagree due to your own personal experiences. Remember this and ask yourself the question, “Do you want to pass the exam or do you want to debate the question?”
ii) You may notice wording is strange is some cases and grammar may be questionable, which can add to confusion. In many cases the wording is specifically structured to cause you confusion. Regardless of word choices, use your best judgment and remember the right option is the right option - don't second guess yourself even it something seems strange.
10. Combination questions will combine any of the types mentioned above. There is no guessing what kind you’ll get so you’ll need to become highly proficient at all of them, and learn to decipher which is which.
As a PMP, you are required to comply with the PMP Code of Professional Conduct. Part of your responsibility concerns applying professional knowledge. All of the following are part of applying professional knowledge except for which one?
A) Staying abreast of project management practices
B) Honestly reporting your project management experience
C) Keeping up with industry trends and new technology
D) Developing relationships based on mutual respect
D is the correct answer. Applying professional knowledge involves staying abreast of project management practices, industry trends, and new technology and honestly reporting your experiences.
This example is a cross between knowledge-based questions and Professional and Social Responsibility. Both questions types were merged to create a further confusing question, because you may second-guess what information actually applies to answer it correctly.
General TIPS that apply to all question types
i) There is no negative marking on the exam. This means that you are not penalized for questions that you answered incorrectly. There is just “correct” or “incorrect” for the scoring, so if you leave a question unanswered your answer is scored as “incorrect”. So remember not to leave any question unanswered and ensure you account for all of them.
ii) Make significant use of the "Mark" option. Although it may seem counter-intuitive to move on, spending valuable time on one question could cost you on other questions you do know, later in the exam. It's better to leave those questions you aren't sure of and go back later if you have time. Just make sure to choose an answer incase you do not have time to go back!
iii) Stay calm by breathing fully. The concept of taking these exams can and will drive up your blood pressure, so the more you can do to relax, the better you'll be able to focus and perform like you need to. Count to five as you inhale and then again when you exhale. This simple technique will help you avoid shallow breathing keeping your nerves under control and oxygen in your brain.
Greg Courtepatte, CET, PMP